I'm very happy to be bringing you this month's interview with World Judo Champion Neil Adams MBE. I feel honoured to have been able to interview Neil, and make his portrait in Europe's oldest Judo dojo, The Budokwai est. 1918 in London, where Neil trained from the age of 16.
RM: What qualities do you admire in a martial artist?
NA: People can develop in different ways – to the dark side or the light side. National Service used to be practiced and this gave youngsters a disciplined form. The nice thing about the martial arts is that it helps in many ways, in children for example we see their overall education improve as their capacity to concentrate and focus improves. Also through martial arts training people tend to develop empathy for others, and control of their own emotions. All the top people I know are well-balanced, humble, they're the nicest people you could wish to meet. If you start martial arts for the wrong reasons, people rarely tend to last.
Judo is an education and discipline for life. You learn to relate to other people with compassion and a lot of self-control. Judo has given me that, and enhanced my life hugely. At the end of it all I want to feel that I've contributed something, and enriched people's lives.
RM: Do you feel motivation changes like this over time, from trying to get something for yourself, then expanding to giving to others?
NA: Definitely. Just because we're professionals, doesn't mean we can't give something back. We have to decide what we want out of our activity, and what we want to give back as well. It's easy to waste time on negative situations, and it takes discipline to forge ahead and create something positive, and of value. We develop the capacity over time to deal with failures, and create something positive out of them. For me people think "well, you won the world championship and two silver medals, that must be really great," but actually I lost two gold medals! At that point I could have easily become disheartened. I draw lots of inspiration from people like Richard Branson and Michael Jordan, who talk a lot not about their successes, but about their failures. Failures test your capacity to bounce back, and shape those experiences into positive growth.
RM: That reminds me of Keats talking about negative capability – the capacity to stay with the unknown, and through doing so allowing something we might not have thought possible.
NA: I find often people just want to keep going. They're afraid to stop. Sometimes though if you just keep on going you're banging your head against the wall. Once I get going, for example, I'm like a dog with a bone! I don't take failure easily, but sometimes you have to stop and change course. Business is a good area to improve this ability.
RM: I heard someone say recently that creative people aren't always creative business people.
NA: I really know the subject of Judo inside and out, but from a business perspective I'm quite ordinary, so it's good to get expert help in for certain areas. It's important to know your strengths and weaknesses. I recently presented to 120 Judo coaches in Egypt, 140 Judo coaches in Russia, on the subject of Judo, but that's different from the business of presenting.
RM: I enjoyed listening to your interview with Stuart Williams on the Unlimited Podcast and am interested hearing you talk about seeing clearly, to the point where you can see not just what's happening, but what's about to happen.
NA: I do a lot of commentating for Judo events, but the only event I don't commentate for is the BBC, who won't use people from outside the BBC. The problem with that is they don't know Judo, and you can tell that immediately. They commentate on what they see, but not on what's actually being done. They can't, because they don't understand the game. I can read what's going to happen because I feel it directly. They're really good commentators, but that part is lacking, the practical, hands-on part. That has to be there for the thing to be real.
RM: To get that experience I imagine there's a lot of repetition . . .
NA: Repetition makes permanent. If your repetition is imperfect you're ingraining a faulty technique. We do a lot of technical work to make sure what's being repeated is technically good for this reason. People say repetition makes perfect, but actually it makes permanent. The funny thing is some of the best throws in competition that either me or Niki [Niki Adams, Neil's wife, also an Olympian Judoka] did are very difficult to remember because they happen in a split-second and lots of factors come together at once, which comes from correct preparation.
RM: Do you find there's a 'sweet-spot' for giving someone feedback, where at one point someone might not be ready to work on something, but if a bad habit is left for too long, it becomes very ingrained?
NA: Yes. From a technical point of view it's very important, and the technical base is very important. You look at both the mental development and the physical development of the individual. So you might have a young lad, who looks like a boy, but mentally he's very developed. You might have another boy who's massive and has a beard, but mentally he's young.
For me from a mental point of view, I was ready very early, and mentally able to cope with stress levels very early. I had a very close decision with the Olympic champion at 17 years of age, at that age I was put into a senior match. From a physical point of view though I was a few years behind, and it took until I was 21 for that to catch-up, at which point I won the World Championship. You can take someone physically strong and start them in competitions but if the mental strength isn't there, it can finish people's career because they can't cope with the stresses of the event, the stress of winning and loosing at a high level. In coaching it's imperative to know these differences. They're key to development.
RM: Neil, thank-you very much for your time.
For people wanting to know more about Neil's work, please visit http://www.naeffectivefighting.com/